Communicating in the YouTube Era: Using Video to Reach Employees

One of the main instigators behind the increased use and acceptance of online video to reach employees is the third most-trafficked site on the Web: YouTube. The impact of YouTube has its pros and cons, though. “What’s been great about [YouTube] has been the ease and how people are used to watching videos or getting in the habit of watching videos online,” says Perry Cowen, owner and operator of Maverick Productions. While YouTube—and improved Internet technology—has worked in favor of video acceptance, the quality has not. “YouTube has helped make poor-quality video acceptable,” says Gene Smaciarz, director of creative services at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Just because the quality on YouTube is often sloppy does not mean that corporate videos can be as well. Amateurish videos are not taken seriously, and that is not the impression you want to make with your organization’s employees. Getting employees to watch a video during a busy workday can be challenging in itself, and you want their time spent watching them to be rewarding. PAYING—AND GETTING—ATTENTION The most successful company videos are ones that are well thought out in the first place. There are many questions that need to be answered before starting a video production, such as: • What is the hook? How will the video draw in employees? • What is the “spinal cord,” or element that holds the entire video together? • Who will be interviewed? • What shots are necessary? • What messages need to be communicated? • How will you keep employees’ attention throughout the video? • What lighting and sound elements will be incorporated into the video? • Who will need to approve the video? • In what format will the video be? • Where will employees access the video? Cowen recommends three preliminary steps that should help to answer the above questions: Do your research, talk to the intended interviewee and figure out what to show for each topic. If you want employees to pay attention to your video, the first step is for you to pay attention to the subjects whom you interview. Cowen suggests making (and keeping) eye contact and giving the subject your full attention. “If people feel like they’re not being listened to, you’ll never get a good interview,” he says. Think of the videos that you like. Do you like a talking head rambling on and on? Probably not. Do you like a video that seems to be scattered all over the place? Probably not. The key to a successful employee video is to inform by entertaining. “People love entertainment,” says Cowen. “When trying to make a video that’s truly informative, it has to be entertaining, but not wacky. It just has to be fast-paced. I don’t really go for funny because it takes away from the seriousness.” In terms of video length, the shorter, the better is the general rule. If a video is too long, employees will not take the time to watch it—but they will watch a long video if it is entertaining in its entirety. “If [employees] can be entertained, we get good feedback,” says Karin Munksgaard, director of corporate communications for the legal segment of Thomson Reuters. “If it’s too information-heavy and long, then we get negative feedback. They say, ‘Why didn’t you just send me the transcript?’” After you have put all that work into producing the video, it would be a shame if nobody watched it, right? Work with the department that runs your company intranet to ensure prominent placement of the video. TIME SHIFTING AND BEYOND One of the best benefits of video is that employees can watch the content on demand when it is convenient for them—in essence, time shifting. “In general, video is a convenient way for employees to see and hear a corporate leader on a topic without having to be at a live meeting,” says Smaciarz. “Employees appreciate that, and that’s a selling point of video.” Video also can an effective way to reach employees in various locations when in-person messages are not viable. In fact, Smaciarz predicts that mobile video is the next stage. “It’s coming quickly,” he says. Just be sure that every office is fully capable of receiving video. For instance, Munksgaard relates that the legal segment of Thomson Reuters initially had difficulty communicating to the employees at its U.K. businesses via video because of bandwidth issues. How can you tell if your video strategy is successful? Look at viewership numbers. Provide employees with an opportunity to rate the video on a scale of one to five. Keep an ear to the ground—are people talking about the video? “The video should not stand out over content,” says Cowen. “It’s not a good video if people are too impressed by special effects or the people in it. Only if the content is what they’re talking about afterwards, then you have succeeded.” If employees pay attention to a video, that will draw the interest of company management as well. For instance, Thrivent Financial developed videos for the organization’s investments division. The chief investment officer, naturally a numbers-oriented person, became convinced of the importance of video when he received the viewership numbers for his videos. Now he wants Smaciarz’s team to explore more video opportunities for his division. PRN CONTACT: This article was written by Brant Skogrand, a vice president at Risdall McKinney Public Relations, and is excerpted from PR News ’ just-released Employee Communications Guidebook. For more information, visit

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